Mississippians Be Damned | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mississippians Be Damned

For more on Haley Barbour, see Donna Ladd's blog and Jackpedia: Haley Barbour

It's a simple question. Does Haley Barbour, or does he not, still own part of the über-powerful lobbying firm in Washington that still bears his name? Bobby Harrison of Tupelo's Daily Journal, a good newspaper that still believes that real Mississippians want real reporting, has asked Barbour repeatedly if he owns part of the firm. Barbour refuses to answer Harrison. His people keep hedging, saying that they will get back to Harrison.

But they don't. So the question is: Why won't Barbour answer the damn question?

Let's break it down. In all those years he lived in Washington, Barbour became arguably the most powerful lobbyist in the world. He and his partners focused on Republican clients, but not necessarily lobbying for conservative causes. (Casinos, for instance.)

They started a high-powered lobbying firm; Barbour's name was first, and he was CEO. Then he (and perhaps the U.S. Chamber) decided he would come on home and run for governor of Mississippi. He won. He told the media he had no more interest in the firm, that his assets were in a "blind trust." The Clarion-Ledger assured Mississippians on Jan. 19, 2004, that his lobbying days were behind him: "He had already sold the firm, including the name, and it's owned by Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., a publicly traded company. … He has no ownership or stock."

In fact, Bloomberg News has revealed that on the day Barbour took office, his stock in the firm was worth $786,666, and he had a pension and profit-sharing benefits. The company pays him $25,000 a month—or $300,000—the bulk of his annual income.

But if it were up to Barbour, you and I wouldn't know all this. We would just keep happily whistling Dixie, thinking that he told reporters the whole honest-to-God truth back in January 2004. So far, he has refused to provide documentation about his income or turn over tax returns as former governors of both parties have done. It wasn't until a couple Bloomberg News stories came out in August that this mess, and the truth, became public.

Now we learn that Barbour has cynically used the media's ignorance in 2004 about his ties to his firm as an excuse for not telling the public the whole truth now. After Attorney General Jim Hood warned him on Nov. 21, 2006, that he was legally required "to report ownership of any subsidiaries of any business you own" (which included "trusts"), Barbour's attorney, Ed Brunini, sent a remarkable response citing the media as a reason for non-disclosure of his financial holdings.

"[A]s you will recall, there was universal approval by the public and media of this approach. A copy of the Clarion Ledger editorial is attached," Brunini wrote. That is, Barbour used an uninformed editorial backing him, because he had supposedly cut lobbying ties, to back up why he shouldn't disclose details now that could prove the editorial wrong.

Remarkable. And incorrect to boot.

Back in '03 and '04, Barbour critics were, indeed, asking these questions. The JFP asked, in fact. But for some reason, Barbour got a pass—from the state's media, from Republicans, even from some Democrats. It's as if all that money he had attracted—from Big Tobacco, hospitals, Pakistan and Qatar and Taiwan—helped buy the acquiescence of too many Mississippians no matter what he does.

In 2004, the new governor made no secret that he was here to protect the interests of corporations, Big Tobacco and health-care conglomerates. He targeted damage payouts and even the ability of people hurt by doctors and corporations to bring suit in order to discourage unsafe practices. He's done just about everything short of give a starter pack of cigs to every school child to protect that industry's ability to keep people addicted to tobacco, including blocking a tobacco tax increase that would help deter smoking. It doesn't matter to him that most Mississippians want the tax raised. His (former?) clients don't want it.

Barbour has also toiled to block ethics and campaign-finance reforms that would help keep people like him and his beltway buddies from using Mississippi like a dumb little pawn to help them amass riches.

Then along came Katrina. For a little bit, Barbour seemed genuinely flustered and humanized by the horrors on the Coast. One would expect that such a major disaster, devastating rich and poor alike, could melt the heart of even the most steel-hearted lobbyist, perhaps encouraging him to do more than look toward the interests of the highest bidder.

Wrong. Instead, Barbour seems to have seen money signs in Katrina's eyes. And in a way, Mississippi benefitted from his position as a top moneychanger. He drove a wedge between Mississippi and Louisiana (dominated by Democrats) by implying that we don't "whine" in this state, like they do over yonder in blue country. His friends paid him back handsomely: sending about the same amount of federal money to the state as they did to Louisiana, although their costs of reconstruction were even higher than ours. In so doing, he seems to have bought the hearts and souls of many in our state, while bashing our neighbors in need.

He didn't stop there, though. Barbour's friends and family and (former?) lobbying firm started benefiting from Katrina contracts, with his nephew Charles Barbour's Guatemalan wife even applying for a minority contract under her maiden name so as not to raise suspicion. Meantime, back in D.C., Barbour, Griffith & Rogers started lobbying for the company that owns the Hard Rock Casino.

All the while, Barbour has rammed through legislation that benefits all these clients—tobacco companies, hospitals, corporations—without revealing whether or not he is receiving handsome payouts from his (former?) firm that happens to represent the interests his actions benefit. But it gets worse. Barbour not only lobbied for the rich, he ambushed the poor. The governor finagled a waiver that says that he could ignore federal law that provided that 50 percent of Katrina federal housing funds had to benefit low- to moderate-income Mississippians. Then he funneled at least 80 percent of the money to higher-income Coast homeowners—about 10 times the amount allocated to replacing rental units or public housing.

Considering that Barbour would funnel Katrina relief away from low-income Mississippians, I guess it shouldn't surprise us that he won't hand over his tax returns. Lobbyists do what lobbyists do, Mississippians be damned.

Previous Comments

ID
75330
Comment

It seems that more old-school journalists around the state are starting to see, and state, what this mess is really about. Charlie Mitchell of the Vicksburg Post: In a nutshell, the Bloomberg-Barbour situation is this: The financial news service reported in August that Barbour was still an owner of the lobbying firm he created in 1991 in Washington, D.C., when he became governor here in 2004 and that he now receives $25,000 a month from it via a "blind trust" of which the Mississippi Ethics Commission is aware and has given its blessing. The nature of the income is significant because the firm, which still operates under the name Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, represented clients in 2006 who were lobbying in Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina recovery contracts. If payments to Barbour were part of a fixed pension plan, that would be one thing. If the payments were related to how well the firm was doing or were profit-sharing, then that would put the governor in the position of receiving, in a roundabout way, personal wealth as a consequence of the devastating storm. In the affray, Barbour has said only that it being an election year, no "liberal New York media" could be expected to report anything nice about him. In pre-Bloomberg interviews with The Associated Press, however, Barbour has said the firm's payments to the trust are strictly retirement checks, not related to current clients in any way. Bloomberg says it has a copy of the notarized blind trust agreement and that at least early in his tenure as Mississippi governor, Barbour had ownership, pension and "profit-sharing" interests in BG&R. [...] Layer on factors such as Mississippi's penchant for "trust me" government and the intrigue grows. Is the governor profiting from Katrina? It's a simple question that has a simple, verifiable answer. But it's a secret, son, it's a secret. Too bad he didn't call for disclosure, but at least he admits what this is about (unlike Sid Salter).

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-13T06:33:44-06:00
ID
75331
Comment

It seems that the Sun-Herald on the Coast ran Charlie Mitchell's column today with the headline, "Is Barbour profiting from Katrina?" Things are getting interesting on the Barbour front. It's getting hard out there for a pimp.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-13T09:07:17-06:00
ID
75332
Comment

You know, I was wondering when something was going to come up on this fella. I'm glad you are so thorough Ms. Ladd. Nothing gets pass you!

Author
Queen601
Date
2007-09-14T10:46:58-06:00
ID
75333
Comment

Well, some things do, Queen, but I try to keep them at a minimum. ;-) Thanks!

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-14T10:50:49-06:00
ID
75334
Comment

As you’ll read on page 14, the governor finagled a waiver that says that he could ignore federal law that provided that 50 percent of Katrina federal housing funds had to benefit low- to moderate-income Mississippians. Then he funneled at least 80 percent of the money to higher-income Coast homeowners—about 10 times the amount allocated to replacing rental units or public housing. Why, that...that... Never mind. My mama taught me not to use that kind of language. Then again, I have a suitable replacement: @#$%!

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-09-14T12:06:09-06:00
ID
75335
Comment

You gotta love it when public money is spent to figure out who blew the whistle on a public servant under scrutiny who won't provide vital information to the public. Amazing: The Mississippi Ethics Commission decided today to hire a former chairman to find the person who leaked Gov. Haley Barbour's personal finances to a national media outlet. Walter Brown will "oversee a formal, completely independent inquiry into the dissemination of Gov. Barbour's financial information to the media and perhaps others," according to a statement by Ethics Commission Director Tom Hood. What will be even more fun is watching national media outlets (starting with that communist Bloomberg) and organizations lining up to protect the public's right to know against the state of Mississippi. Should be a hoot. Wonder how much tax money they're willing to spend on a witchhunt in order to change the subject?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-09-14T14:35:07-06:00

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